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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 3, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 10
Coulombe to Lead Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


By Natalie Wood-Wright
School of Public Health

Pierre A. Coulombe, a leading expert in the cytoskeleton and underlying causes of diseases affecting the skin, will join the Bloomberg School of Public Health as the E.V. McCollum Professor and Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Coulombe is currently a professor in the School of Medicine departments of Biological Chemistry and Dermatology. He will assume his new duties as chair on Dec. 1 and will maintain his School of Medicine appointments.

"Dr. Coulombe will be a transformational leader who will not only do a great job of leading the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology but will add to the Bloomberg School's success and achievement," said Michael J. Klag, dean of Public Health. "The department has a long and illustrious history and was one of the founding departments of our school. I know that Dr. Coulombe will continue in this proud tradition."

Coulombe's research focuses primarily on the keratin filament cytoskeleton in epithelial cells, with an emphasis on skin tissue. He is working to gain a better understanding of keratin genes at a mechanistic and molecular level. The Coulombe laboratory discovered several novel functions for keratin proteins, including a role in regulating protein synthesis and epithelial cell growth during epithelial remodeling events. Keratin gene mutations are causative for a large number of dominantly inherited diseases, such as epidermolysis bullosa simplex. Following his discovery of mutations in select keratin genes of EBS sufferers, which he made as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, Coulombe has continued to investigate this important problem, an effort that led him to devise a therapeutic strategy for the treatment of EBS and related disorders. The innovative therapy uses a natural product commonly found in the diet.

Coulombe earned his doctorate from Universite de Montreal and has received numerous awards for both teaching and research. Most recently he received the William F. Montagna Award by the Society for Investigative Dermatology for his overall contributions to the understanding of keratin function, and the implication of keratins in diseases. Coulombe is the author of 111 publications and co- inventor of the patented "Use of Nrf2 inducers to treat epidermolysis bullosa simplex and related diseases."

Coulombe replaces Roger McMacken, who stepped down as chair earlier this year after leading the department for 18 years. Barry Zirkin served as interim chair while a national search for a new chair was conducted.

The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology was established with the founding of the school in 1916. E.V. McCollum, the department's first professor and chair, discovered vitamins A and D, as well as the importance of trace metals in the diet.


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